One of the first steps in understanding how your weapon works is to get acquainted with its components. In this guide, we take a closer look at the parts of a crossbow to learn more about how it works.
Knowing the parts of a crossbow can be helpful when it comes time to assemble your own or if there is a need to replace and change any of the parts, whether due to damage or because you want to make an upgrade.
To the lower right is an image of a recurve crossbow labeled with its parts. We’ve decided to begin with this type of crossbow since it is the more basic of the two crossbow designs and has all the components of a basic crossbow.
Once we’ve understood the basic parts, we will then introduce the compound crossbow and explain which parts it has different from the recurve version.
Parts of a Recurve Crossbow
To make the explanation simpler, we shall begin from the tip of the bow and work our way towards the end of the stock which is where the shooter holds the weapon.
At the very tip of the crossbow is the stirrup, some people call it the foot stirrup others the cocking stirrup. This is often a D-shaped metal component that protrudes out of the front of the bow section of the weapon though some models like the newer Barnett Ghost line integrates its stirrup into the bow so you have no protruding parts.
The stirrup gets its name for the purpose it is used for. During the cocking process, this is where you insert your foot to anchor the crossbow so that it stays firmly on the group when you pull the string back. To learn more about this process, see our string a crossbow article.
The bow section, which is also called the prod, is similar in construction to vertical bows, except in this case it is laid down horizontally. At the center, holding the limbs connected is the riser. This is made from durable metal usually lightweight aluminum, though some higher end models use carbon to make it lighter. The main function is to connect the body to the limbs.
Attached to the riser are the limbs. At the end of the limbs is where you connect the string that will be used to propel the arrow which we discuss later on. The limbs bend as you draw the bow’s string back when you cock it, storing potential energy. It is this stored energy that is used to power the arrow through the air once the trigger is pulled.
This is where recurve and compound crossbows differ the most as we discuss later, as their limbs has very different designs.
Limbs are arguably the most important part of the x-bow because they take the brunt of the force. This means you want the best limb quality possible it has to endure the draw weight, your cocking the bow, and the release which sends large amounts of force and vibration through it.
Modern limb design are often divided into the solid and split limbs. Solid limbs are like those shown in the two crossbow images in this article. Split limbs use 4 thinner limbs with a gap between them instead of the two wider limbs.
The power of your crossbow will often depend on the weight of your limbs. Smaller crossbows can have a little as 120 lb. limbs while powerful ones as high as 250 lbs. or more. This higher the draw weight the more powerful the arrow shot.
The string is attached to the ends of the limbs effectively connecting them. The way a string functions is similar to that of a slingshot where pulling the string back and placing an object on the string propels it forward.
Today’s modern strings are made from different fibers, all designed to be as strong as possible since the draw weights and speeds produced by newer crossbows are getting higher and higher. Strings are composed of multiple fibers with the threads twisted to make it stronger.
For recurve crossbows, the ends of the strings have loops which you insert into the tips of the limbs. This allows you to change the string yourself at home if needed. Though you will need a stringer.
Because of the difference in the way their limbs are built, the strings of recurve and compound crossbows at inserted differently.
The string, because it takes most of the usage is often the first thing that wears out. Because of this you want to wax your string every 5 to 10 shots which reduces the friction between the arrow’s nock and the string.
In the middle of every string is what’s called the serving or center serving. This area is a thicker portion because you have an extra layer of threads that wrap around it. The serving acts as protection as it is on the serving where you nock your arrows (where the end of the arrow rests on the string).
Right underneath the string is the flight track. Called by many names, including flight rail or flight deck, this is where your arrow’s shaft rests once the crossbow is cocked. It is also the track that acts like a launching pad or runway for the arrow to fire off from.
In the middle of the track is a small groove, which is a hole where you insert one of your arrow’s fletching (feathers). Your arrows will have one fletching that’s has a different color from the others. This odd color fletching is what’s inserted into the groove to keep the arrow seated steady.
The most important thing about the flight rail is to keep it clean and well maintained. This means removing any dirt or debris that may disturb the arrow’s path. You also need to keep it lubricated. For more on this, see our crossbow maintenance section.
As you know by now, the crossbow is a combination of a bow and a gun. And like a gun it has the barrel which is the middle portion. The top part of the barrel is the flight track and below it the forearm.
The barrel is the straight section that acts as the solid structure to connect the bow with the stock.
When shooting your crossbow, make sure that your off hand is never on the barrel. Always keep it below it for safety reasons.
The forearm is the section that lets allows you to hold the weapon steady as you aim to shoot it. Always make sure that this is where you have your off hand when shooting. Having your hand above the forearm puts you at risk of getting your thumb or fingers in that path of the string as it is released.
Sight / Scope
Most modern crossbows are fitted with scopes because they are able to shoot long distances. The scopes have magnification which allow you to see and get a clearer view of things that are far which the eye can’t see clearly. This makes for more accurate shooting.
Many of the packages differ in the types of scopes or sights that come with the crossbow, which is why you may have the same model at different prices. Mos
The stock of the crossbow serves a similar purpose to that of guns. It holds the barrel and trigger assembly in position and provides a comfortable way for the shooter to hold, grip and aim the weapon.
Construction Differences Between Recurve and Compound Crossbows
The major difference between recurve and compound versions are the limbs.
Recurve crossbows have limbs that curving limbs towards the tips.
Compound crossbows on the other hand use a system of wheels on the ends of the limbs. This cam system runs a series of cables that essentially lengthens the draw length providing a mechanical advantage that lets compound crossbows shoot faster than recurves.
If you own a compound crossbow, you won’t be able to replace the string yourself, and will need a crossbow press to do so. This is because the ends of the string’s loops are wrapped around the wheels.
For a more in depth discussion of the two types see our recurve vs. compound crossbow article.
A Closer Look at the Crossbow Trigger Mechanism
Protectively covered by the crossbow’s stock is the trigger assembly. The trigger assembly is in charge of most of the controllable moving parts of your weapon apart from the string and limbs. It not only functions to let the shooter pull the trigger but also includes the retention spring and some safety features.
Below is an image of a trigger assembly. Keep in mind that different manufacturers have their own designs so you’ll see different styles but with relatively similar parts.
The trigger is the mechanism that allows the shooter to release the latched string to fire the arrow. Pulling the trigger releases the latch that hooks the strings, firing the arrow. Triggers often have a trigger guard which is a metal ring that surrounds the trigger acting as a protective barrier to decrease the risk of the trigger being pulled inadvertently.
Safeties are mechanical devices that almost always accompanies today’s triggers. They are used to prevent accidental pulling of the trigger. Crossbow safeties are located as different areas of the trigger assemblies, with many at the rear and at the side.
These are often labeled SAFE and FIRE or S and F. Placing it on Safe prevents firing while switching it to Fire lets the shooting pull the trigger to fire the arrow.
Many brands use automatic safety mechanisms where once the string gets cocked an automatic safety is engaged.
Located at the end of the flight track is positioned there to hold down the arrow when it is seated. This keeps the arrow in place so even if you move the arrow will stay in proper position ready to be shot.
The latch is the hook that latches on to the string when you cock your crossbow. This keeps the string drawn back until the trigger is pulled. When that happens, the latch is released effectively letting the string push the arrow forward.
The sight bridge is on top of this trigger assembly. This part allows you to mount your scope on top of it.
Anti Dry-fire Mechanism
The anti dry-fire device is a built in component in some crossbows. It’s main function is to prevent you from firing the crossbow when there is no arrow seated on the flight rail.
This safety features is useful in case of accidental pulling of the trigger. Dry firing a crossbow is generally harmful because the forces are absorbed by the bow’s components instead of the arrow (since there is no arrow there). When this happens, the powerful rattling, jarring and vibrations can damage the parts.
Useful Crossbow Terms
- Draw Weight – throughout the article we discussed draw weight. This is the amount of force needed to pull the crossbow’s string back when cocking it. The higher the weight the more powerful the arrow is show. Low end crossbows (not considering pistol crossbows) have draw weights of around 150 lbs., while most fall between 150 and 200 lbs. The more powerful ones are those over 200 lbs.
- Power Stroke – power stroke is the distance the string travels on the flight track between its relaxed starting position until it is fully cocked. The longer the power stroke, the more powerful the shot. Combined with draw weight these affect how much power your crossbow is capable of.